Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government needs to do a better job making sure First Nations have what they need to fight forest fires.
Trudeau acknowledged the gaps Thursday in resources for municipalities, which work with the province on wildfires, and First Nations, which fall under federal responsibility.
“Municipalities get resources from provinces, but when the neighbouring Indigenous community turns to the province: ‘Well, we need resources.’ ‘Well, you are a federal responsibility.’ We have to clear up those lines of flowing resources and ensuring people get what they need, regardless of whether they are in an Indigenous community or a non-Indigenous community,” he said.
He said things have improved since devastating wildfires in B.C. last year, but more work needs to be done to ensure everyone is equally protected.
“We need to make sure people are safe and that homes and livelihoods are protected. That’s something that we are very much working on and we will continue to. We made significant improvements, but … there’s still lots more to do.”
Trudeau left the federal cabinet meeting in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island to travel to Prince George in central British Columbia to meet with those working to control some of the 563 wildfires that have charred more than 6,000-square-kilometres of the province. He met with fire protection officer Tom Reinboldt, Mayor Lyn Hall and local legislature member John Rustad, among others, in a boardroom at the local fire centre.
“Thank you for making it possible for me to come this morning. I absolutely didn’t want to disrupt anything, but I wanted to be able to thank everyone for the work they’re doing, and see and make sure everyone’s collaborating well, as I know they are,” Trudeau said.
He has tasked several members of the federal cabinet with co-ordinating support, recovery and rebuilding efforts as the federal and B.C. governments work together to assist those affected by the fires.
The wildfire danger map posted by the BC Wildfire Service showed a danger rating of extreme or high across most of the province and thousands were on evacuation alert or have already fled their homes. But cooler weather and possible showers were in the forecast, although officials warn there is a danger of lightning along with the rain.
Leaders in the tiny community of Lower Post near the Yukon boundary confirmed at a community meeting Wednesday night that three structures were lost as a 50-square-kilometre wildfire skipped through the middle of the village.
Other fires around the province prompted evacuation orders Wednesday, including for homes and cottages threatened by an aggressive blaze near MacGillivray, east of Pemberton.
Dense smoke from the fires continued to prompt air quality alerts across most of B.C. because of soaring levels of tiny bits of grit contained in the smoke. In Prince George, the air smelled strongly of smoke and a hazy grey hung in the sky.
The advisory for Metro Vancouver included ground level ozone, the smog created when emissions from vehicles and other sources react in sunlight and stagnant air.
— With files from CKRW
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press